The Joy of Revenge
Rosalind was glad Nileas was not home when she got there. She could hide crossbows or anger, but never both at the same time. Besides, lying to the old man always left her feeling guilty. She sprang up to her room, gave her mirror a flip and removed the backboard. Inside, strapped to a leather holster, slept her faithful companion.
Carefully, she caressed its cool, dark forearm. Of all the presents she had received over the years, this was her favourite. Unlike ordinary toys or jewellery, Hawkeye was tough; not even dropping it three times as she scaled slanted rooftops could put a scratch on its gilded body. It was small and light enough to cling to her thigh. Despite its size, it had enough firepower to punch arrows into boulders.
But what Rosalind really loved was its precision. Ever since this crossbow landed in her hands, the girl had not missed a single shot. At times she had to wonder whether it was Hawkeye or her hands that had guided those arrows.
She joined Boris in the backyard. She found him under a canopy of vines. The boy sat on a wooden stool and laid out half a dozen arrows on the table. He looked about him nervously, as if afraid to move. Rose shared his reservation about moving around this patio. After all, Nileas was a prolific gardener.
The lawn, regularly attended, was free of weed. Its green contours marked out borders with cleanly trimmed edges. Roses of every colour were in full bloom. Still more pots of flowers sat in disciplined array. Trees, well pruned, stood like silent gentlemen wearing round hats. Red sparrows hopped in and out a majestic birdhouse which Nileas crafted by hand.
Rosalind bent down under the table and dragged out a wooden post. She allowed it to lean against the sturdy fence. This was her target.
The young man hurried to hand her an old arrow.
She began cocking the bow. With each movement, Rosalind felt pulses of rage bursting through her fingers. Nothing angered her more than those that picked on the weak. She levelled Hawkeye, stared down its scopes and pretended that it was the bullies that stood before her.
‘Rose, I don’t think –’ began Boris.
‘Hush Boris,’ Rosalind lifted her hand quickly, ‘be quiet.’
As she took aim, she felt her full fury converge upon the blunt tip of the used bolt. The picturesque garden vanished. All that remained was a piece of wood riddled with holes. Her hand, ever so experienced, shuffled about the forearm, making subtle corrections. She took a deep breath, and fired.
Rosalind could not wait to retrieve the arrow. It had landed exactly as she had expected. She repeated the test a few more times.
‘Good!’ concluded Rosalind, smiling, ‘now Boris, what were you going to say?’
‘I…I don’t think this is necessary.’
‘Oh come on, I’m not really going to shoot them,’ said Rosalind, ‘it’ll be fun. That’s why people take revenge.’
‘You might get hurt.’
‘As if those bungling fools could even touch me,’ snorted Rosalind, ‘look, just let me do it my way. You can lecture me afterwards.’
Boris sighed. Their disagreements always ended with him resigning. He could never win an argument against Rosalind. In ominous silence, they marched back towards the square. Rosalind was fully armed. Under her skirt, she had Hawkeye strapped to her thigh. On her back was her own quarterstaff which was more like a spear with metal tips on both ends. She looked ready for war.
The sun was up now. Under its blazing force, the distant air shimmered. Rosalind stared up at the blue sky, her profile full of misgiving for the glowing fireball. Irate hands swiped perspiration from her forehead.
The fat knight had released the boys for school. He was now marching between the men, occasionally stopping to demonstrate quarterstaff manoeuvres. Some of the fighters, as if to defy the sun, had removed their shirt. This was not lost on passing women.
Activity had picked up since Rosalind last visited the square. The baker’s boy was busy bagging bread for a man tapping at his watch. The fishmonger was haggling against a mother who had two little girls tugging at her skirt and pointing at a shop across the street. They were looking at Mr Pontix, who was being swarmed by children demanding ice.
‘Hey Boris,’ Rosalind handed him two copper coins, ‘could you run down to Iceman for me?’
‘Oh, get something for yourself.’
Rosalind shook her head. Had she not told him to do so, Boris would’ve definitely returned to her with change. Even after all those years, the mule did not realise that the extra copper was not the evil of bad arithmetic.
Now that Boris had joined the line of screeching kids, Rosalind began looking for Erwin. She did not find him. Irked, Rosalind slipped in amongst the men and made her way towards Wallace Baldrim. The sea of sweaty, shirtless bulks of muscle, made the squeeze nauseating.
‘Sir,’ called Rosalind, her feminine voice immediately drawing eyes, ‘have you seen Erwin?’
‘Haven’t seen him,’ the fat knight formed his sentence as languidly as he strutted about, ‘knowing that boy he’s probably at the tavern.’
Accompanied by Boris, with a cone of cream in hand, Rosalind made her way towards the local tavern, aptly named ‘The Ripper’ by its founder, Mr Ripland. The pub was a place of great diversity; it would not be unusual to hear folks conversing in foreign tongues between rounds of beer. It was also a sanctuary for delinquents during the mornings.
Rosalind heard Erwin even before she stepped inside the tavern. Hurriedly, she finished her cone and pushed aside the door. The sudden burst of chilling flavour joined hands with the sun to give her a swoon so bad that Rosalind had to stop and lean against the wall a while. Her vengeance was off to a rocky start.
Erwin looked up at her and laughed aloud.
‘You do that when you leave, Rose.’
Around the table, his two cronies joined in the chorus of derisive laughter. Accompanied by the stench of alcohol and tobacco, this made for an unpleasant entry. To the left sat the freckle-faced Ingles; his orifices were structured in such a way that Rosalind thought him more weasel than man. Next to Ingles was Marlo whose presence always puzzled Rose. The smaller boy looked so out of place sitting next to his friends. He was distinguished by three moles forming what Rosalind liked to call the ‘Ugly Triangle’. Together, they were the Three Brothers, a notorious bunch in Gleanne.
To Erwin’s right was a pretty girl. She regarded Rosalind with cool contempt.
‘Who is she?’ asked the woman with a heavy foreign accent.
‘She’s a good friend of ours,’ said Erwin, ‘aren’t you Rose? Say, would you like a drink? Hey Ripland –’
Rosalind bent down, lifted her skirt and unveiled Hawkeye. The entire tavern froze. Erwin swallowed at the glinting tip of the arrow. He knew better than anyone else the mayhem that she was capable of. His friends too, stared at Rosalind in alarm.
‘Scram,’ Rosalind motioned at the foreigner, ‘next time, try growing some eyes for men.’
The woman marched out on Rosalind with her head held high. Erwin’s smile faded the moment his girl exited The Ripper. He stood and so did his brothers. Ingles still wore his imbecilic grin and Marlo was having trouble holding his liquor.
‘Now that I got your undivided attention,’ Rosalind lowered her aim. Shooting people in broad daylight was never a good idea. ‘What did you guys do to Boris? Lie, and by the Lady I will put one of these through you groin.’
‘It was nothing,’ said Marlo, quickly, ‘we were practising, that’s all.’
‘Yeah, it was just good fun,’ joined Erwin, ‘he wanted in and got hurt. Nothing malicious, I swear.’
‘Just because your brains are made of cow dung do not assume that I belong to the same class of idiocy,’ Rosalind sneered and levelled her bow at Ingles who was trying to weasel his way out the rear door, ‘where are you going? I haven’t heard you lie yet.’
‘We didn’t do anything,’ blurted Ingles, ‘really, we didn’t do anything.’
‘Perhaps you could look Boris in the eye and say that,’ said Rosalind, then yelling, ‘Boris, get in here!’
Boris came in slowly. The Three Brothers leered at him. Boris felt his knees wobble. It was the sight of Rosalind with Hawkeye in her hands that gave him strength to stay on his feet. Still, the extent of his courage would only allow him to stand a few paces behind Rosalind and stare at the ground.
‘Boris,’ said Rosalind, ‘show everybody in this tavern what these three goons did to your hands.’
‘We didn’t do anything, did we, Boris?’ there was an edge to Erwin’s question.
‘No…it was –’
‘Oh blind the Lady!’ Rosalind swore, lifted his hands and pulled down the tattered sleeves for all to see. ‘Is this nothing?’
‘If you play with swords, you should be ready to get hurt,’ said Marlo, suddenly sober, ‘isn’t that right, Boris?’
‘It was an accident, I merely…’ he trailed off when Rosalind glared at him, ‘Marlo told me to help out in the armoury. Ingles and Erwin were already there. They locked me…inside and gave me a blunt sword. When I didn’t pick it up, they started to –’
‘Boris you little rat!’ Erwin would’ve jumped over the table had Rose not pointed her bow at him.
‘They shouldn’t have…shouldn’t have called you that, Rose,’ for the first time, Rosalind felt anger surfacing from Boris, ‘they shouldn’t have called you that. I…wanted to make them…pay.’
‘There, you see,’ Rosalind patted him on the back, ‘isn’t it nice to get such things off your chest? Just out of curiosity, what did they call me?’
‘Don’t you say it Boris!’ roared Erwin, ‘say it and I’ll kill you!’
‘He called you Plague Girl.’
In the blink of an eye, the world before Rosalind disappeared. All that she could see was Erwin. The table was the first to feel her fury. The Three Brothers scrambled for safety as her staff descended upon the woodwork which exploded into a flurry of splinters.
‘I’m sorry Mr Ripland,’ said Rosalind with an eerie calm, ‘I’ll pay for it.’
‘Just make them pay their tab,’ scowled the stout man from the safety of his register, ‘we’ll call it even then.’
Rosalind lifted her bow and made an eye. ‘You heard the man. Spill it!’
Ingles and Marlo, cowering, dug into their pockets as they stood. They made their way towards the counter, never taking their eyes off the arrow.
‘Crawl!’ ordered Rosalind, thumping the floor with her staff, ‘like the cowards that you are!’
The trembling boys obeyed. Laying down their coppers the two fled The Ripper. Erwin made to follow them but was detained. Rosalind reserved her darkest stare for him.
‘I challenge you to a duel,’ said Rosalind, ‘midday, town square. Don’t – be – late.’
With that, she holstered her bow, shouldered her staff and exited. An uncertain Boris followed her out. She marched quickly without obvious purpose, slowing with each stride. At last, in an unpopulated back alley, Rosalind sank down against the wall. The cool touch of granite did nothing to assuage her pain. Hands wrapped around her knees, she cried.
‘Are you alright?’ asked Boris.
‘Just leave me alone.’
Boris settled down next to her and patted her shoulder. She slapped away his hand without looking at him.
‘I said go away,’ she managed between sobs, ‘didn’t you hear me?’
The boy did not budge.
‘This is just stupid Rose,’ said Boris, ‘we all know you’re not Plague Girl.’
‘What if I am?’ Rosalind looked up at him with large, watery eyes, ‘what if I am?’
Rosalind could not sleep that night. Nileas was coughing so profusely that it sounded like the drums played in carnivals. The little girl ventured downstairs and found her father hunched over the kitchen sink.
‘Dad, I can’t sleep,’ complained Rosalind, rubbing her eyes, ‘can you please be quiet?’
‘Oh Rose,’ Nileas suppressed another cough, ‘sorry, but it seems like I have a cold.’
A sudden fit assaulted the man. He sputtered, fell to his knees and vomited blood.
‘Dad!’ screamed Rosalind, running to him, ‘what’s wrong?’
Nileas did not respond. He tried to stand but his legs were shaking too violently. A second fit came on and Nileas collapsed.
The vivid recollection renewed tears that Rosalind thought she had forgotten.
‘Is that all you’re worried about?’ Boris shook his head at her, ‘do you know any demons of misfortune as brave and kind as you?’
Rosalind was too sullen to answer.
‘Who was it that ran out in the middle of the night to find Vincent even though she didn’t know the way?’
‘I knew the way,’ pouted Rosalind, wiping away tears, ‘it was just too dark for me to see the signs.’
‘That’s my Rose,’ smiled Boris, ‘the Plague Girl is just a story. We all know that. I mean…I was angry too, but really, it was just a rumour some housewives started long ago. Nobody thinks of you that way and you know it. We love you.’
Sniffing, Rosalind got to her feet. She grabbed her staff and gave it flourish. All of a sudden, she felt better.
‘Thanks Boris,’ beamed Rosalind, ‘now let’s get Erwin. He won’t look the same once I’m done with him.’
The town square of Gleanne at midday was full of life. The local band had taken their place in a shaded corner of the courtyard, tuning their instruments. Men of the Watch lunched around tables, occasionally stopping to flirt with passing waitresses. The Iceman said farewell to a horde of crying children, promising to be back in the afternoon.
Rosalind sat herself down by the fountain, next to the fat knight. She watched, somewhat incredulously, as Wallace scoffed down two roast fowls.
‘Sir Baldrim,’ she spoke up at last, not wanting to interrupt the man’s meal, ‘I need a man to officiate a duel in less than ten minutes. Do you think you could do that?’
‘Duel, huh?’ Wallace eyed her suspiciously, ‘what did Erwin do this time?’
‘He was just being himself.’
‘That bad,’ Wallace erupted with laughter, ‘perhaps you can whip some sense into his sorry excuse of a noggin. Your staff can teach many men a good lesson.’
Erwin arrived moments later, accompanied by Ingles and Marlo. Wallace gave them a sidelong glance before standing. Walking to the square centre, he gestured for the two parties to come forth.
‘Good folks of Gleanne and beyond,’ boomed Wallace, ‘today we have two warriors who will pit their skills against one another for our enjoyment. To my right is Erwin Pontix, a skilled volunteer of the Watch. To my left is our local darling, Rosalind Eltridge. Now fighters, as per tradition demands, a duel bestows upon the winner the right to punish the loser.’
The entire community of Gleanne swarmed over at the spectacle. Wallace waited for the gathering crowd to settle before carrying on, gesturing at Rosalind.
‘Well young lady,’ announced the knight, ‘since you proposed this affair you are to name the punishment, bearing in mind that you may be subject to it should you lose.’
‘I was going to have the loser run naked three laps around town,’ said Rosalind with a malicious grin, ‘but knowing you Erwin, you’d probably enjoy that.’
The audiences exploded into fits of laughter.
‘I have a better idea,’ Rosalind waved to the supportive crowd, ‘the loser is to be tied to the fountain till midnight for our enjoyment. How does that sound?’
Erwin swallowed. He could already see a few men rubbing their hands in eager anticipation. This was not going to end well.